The north state's Sen. Ted Gaines has proposed a trio of bills in this session that would curb or repeal the controversial fees charged to rural residents for fire protection.
‘This $150 fire tax is illegal and unfair – plain and simple,” said Senator Gaines. “My goal with these bills is to offer some hope and support to Californians who are still facing a 10-percent unemployment rate and struggling just to make ends meet.”In the photo, legislative aides Brenda Haynes (left) and Ashley Adishian prepare a sign during an anti-fire fee rally in Redding last October.
Senate Bill 17 would reverse the Governor’s and legislative Democrats’ decision to raise $84 million in taxes by charging rural property owners a “fee” for fire prevention services as part of the 2011-12 budget. These communities are located in “State Responsibility Areas” (SRA) designated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), even though their property taxes already contribute to the service contracts that counties have with Cal Fire.
Senate Bill 125 would exempt a property owner of a structure that is located both within an SRA and within the boundaries of a local fire protection district from having to pay the $150 tax. Many rural property owners already pay local fire agencies for protection so this legislation would eliminate the double-taxation scenario for those residents.
Senate Bill 147 would exempt any property owner located within an SRA who has an income of less than 200 percent of federal poverty level (as determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines) from paying the $150 fire tax. Many Californians fall within this low income category.
This fire tax has been imposed on the owners of more than 800,000 properties in the state. According to census and Cal Fire data, Senator Gaines’ largely rural district includes nearly 25 percent or approximately 200,000 of the properties whose owners are subject to the fee.
“My legislation comes at a time when Cal Fire has been accused of stashing away millions in a secret fund,” said Senator Gaines. “I hope my legislative colleagues realize that charging rural Californians a $150 illegal fire fee specifically to support Cal Fire operations, at the same time they are hiding millions provides enough justification to support these bills.”
Senator Ted Gaines represents the 1st Senate District, which includes all or parts of Alpine, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra and Siskiyou counties.
For my story on how farm groups are taking part in the fire-fee debate, check CapitalPress.com soon.